1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Objectivity of Thought

(Part 83)

(J) Intellection (cont.)

Objectivity of Thought

The mention of logical necessity brings up a topic already incidentally noticed, viz., the objectivity of thought and cognition generally (comp. pp. 55-77). The psychological treatment of this topic is tantamount to an inquiry into the characteristics of the states of mind we call certainty, doubt, belief – all of which centre round the one fact of evidence. Between the certainty that a proposition is true and the certainty that it is not there may intervene continuous grades of uncertainty. We may know that A is sometimes B, or sometimes not; or that some at least of the conditions of B are present or absent; or the presentation of A may be too confused for distinct analysis. This is the region of probability, possibility, more or less obscurity. Leaving this aside, it will be enough to notice those cases in which certainty may be complete. With that certainty which is absolutely objective, i.e., with knowledge, psychology has no direct concern; it is for logic to furnish the criteria by which knowledge is ascertained.

Emotion and desire are frequent indirect causes of subjective certainty, in so far as they determine the constituents and the grouping of the field of consciousness at the moment – "pack the jury" or "suborn the witnesses," as it were. But the ground of certainty is in all cases some quality or some relation of these presentations inter se. In a sense, therefore, the ground of all certainty is objective – in the sense, that is, of being something at least directly and immediately determined for the subject and not by it. But, though objective, this ground is not itself – at least is not ultimately – an object or presentation. Where certainty is mediate, one judgment is often spoken of as the ground of another; but a syllogism is still psychologically a single, though not a simple, judgment, and the certainty of it as a whole is immediate. Between the judgment A is B and the question is A B? the difference is not one content nor scarcely one of form: it is a difference which depends upon the effect of the proposition on the subject judging. (i.) We have this effect before us most clearly if we consider what is by common consent regarded as the type of certainty and evidence, the certainty of present sense-impressions whence it is said, "Seeing is believing." The evident is here the actual, and the "feeling or consciousness" of certainty is in this case nothing but the sense of being taken fast hold of and forced to apprehend what is there. (ii.) The like is true of memory and expectation: in these also there is a sense of being tied down to what is given, whereas in mere imagination, however lively, this non-voluntary determination is absent (comp. p. 63). Hume saw this at times clearly enough, as, e.g., when he says, "An idea assented to feels different from a fictitious idea that the fancy alone presents to us." But unfortunately he not only made this difference a mere difference of intensity, but spoke of belief itself as "an operation of the mind" or "manner of conception that bestowed on our ideas this additional force or vivacity." [83-2] In short, Hume confounded one of the indirect causes of belief with the ground of it, and again, in describing this ground committed the husteron proteron [Gk.] of making the mind determine the ideas instead of the ideas determine the mind. (iii.) In speaking on intellection he is clearer: "The answer is easy with regard to propositions that are prov’d by intuition or demonstration. In that case, the person who assents not only conceives the ideas according to the proposition, but is necessarily determin’d to conceive them in that particular manner" (op. cit., p. 395). It has been often urged – as by J. S. Mill, for example – that belief is something "ultimate and primordial." No doubt it is; but so is the distinction between activity and passivity, and it is not here maintained that certainty can be analyzed into something simpler, but only that it is identical with what is of the nature of passivity – objective determination. As Dr Bain puts it, "The leading fact in belief… is our primitive credulity. We begin by believing everything: whether is is true" (Emotions and Will, 3rd. ed. P. 511). But the point is that in this primitive state there is no act answering to "believe" distinct from the non-voluntary attention answering to "perceive," and no reflexion such a modal term like "true" implies. With eyes open in the broad day no man says, "I am certain there is light": he simply sees – e.g., that things are nearer when viewed through a telescope – just as he will come to disbelieve his dreams, though a telescope – just as he will come to disbelieve his dreams, though while they last he is certain in these too. The limits of this article forbid any attempt to deal specially with the intellectual aspects of such conflicts of presentations (comp. p. 62) or with their resolution and what is meant by saying that reason turns out superior to sense. The consistency we find it possible to establish among certain of our ideas becomes an ideal, to which we expect to find all our experience conform. Still the intuitive evidence of logical and mathematical axioms is psychologically but a new form of the actual: we are only certain that two and two make four and we are not less certain that we see things nearer through a telescope. [83-3]


83-2 Treatise of Human Nature, Green and Grose’s ed., i. p. 396.

83-3 See BELIEF, vol. ii. p. 532.

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